Developmental Coaching: A Curtailed Discipline Squashed by Behaviorism

Developmental  coaching, announced as a breakthrough in the form of an evidence-based discipline in 2003, has had a sorry history ever since.

Since this discipline never acknowledged the — empirically validated —  distinction between the social-emotional (Kegan 1982) and cognitive development of individuals  (Basseches 1984), its impact was reduced to half by its practitioners’ fixation on “stages” (whether Loevinger’s or Kegan’s) and the rampant speculative ideologies derived therefrom. Coaching organizations defensively pushed empirical research evidence into the background while in the meantime co-opting the term ‘developmental’. Only a tiny number of coaches learned developmental interviewing and listening, and then only in the social-emotional, not the cognitive, domain. Consequently, developmental coaching was unable to withstand the onslaught of purely behavioristic coaching lore that increasingly gained the field in the form of ICF. the international coach federation.

As a result, developmental coaching — dignified by Wilber’s writings in which he only paid lip-service to cognition — became a misnomer. Having failed to integrate existing research into the unfolding of complex thinking in adults, today (2018) this discipline is only a shadow of its original potential. Relegated to a perspective of ‘continuous improvement’ — the lowest level of cognitive functioning in organizations and institutions — developmental coaches continue to unwillingly deceive senior managers and leaders about the true potential of organization contributors, including their own.

The neglect paid to adults’ cognitive development is today most poignantly experienced — and paid a high price for —  in the field of team coaching. This is the case in distributed-leadership circles (often referred to as ‘agile’ or ‘holacratic’) even more than in teams operating within a hierarchically structured environment.

Coaches have also not learned much from the transition of companies from command chain to distributed leadership production and service. This transition has dramatically changed the status of coachees, and thus of coaches as well. Once the shelter of organizational hierarchy falls away as in holacratic and sociocratic work environments, ‘work’ reveals itself as comprising two still rarely acknowledged dimensions of coaching:  clients’ Job 1, comprising the immediate task to be accomplished (which can with some success be approached through behavioral coaching), and clients’ Job 2, consisting of  individuals’ natural attempt to safeguard their own developmental integrity and agenda, which requires emphatically developmental coaching including cognitive coaching (Kegan & Lahey 2016; Boyd & Laske 2017; De Visch & Laske 2018).

Wherever an ‘enabling environment’ for fostering individuals’ self organization is lacking, the risk arises that Job 2 will overwhelm Job 1. As a result, the work to be accomplished suffers since both individual  contributors and teams lack the cognitive capability to deal with the real world as it “really” is, namely, inexorably in transformation. The situation is worsened by the fact that change cannot be grasped by purely logical thinking, not to speak of transformation.

No agile tool kit or neo-tayloristic sprint framework can make up for the lack of an organizationally supported capability of complex thinking (see De Visch & Laske, “Dynamic collaboration: Strengthening self organization and collaborative intelligence in teams, forthcoming in May of 2018).


In writings produced between 1999 and 2018, Otto Laske — based on his synthesis of adult-developmental research findings since 1975 called  the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF, 1999-2000) — has indefatigably reminded the coaching and leadership communities that they are, both in training and practice, foregoing excellence due to holding on to narrowly behavioristic competency models. Since individuals’ cognitive-developmental potential is intricately interwoven with their social-emotional ‘meaning making’ (often mistaken for cognition or reduced to psychological issues), the narrow focus of both behavioral and developmental coaching brings about a curtailing of social-emotional development itself.

Below, the reader will find Otto Laske’s most important writings on developmental coaching since 1999. To a considerable extent, these essays have remained unpublished; their reception has been overshadowed by the less than evidence-based integral ideology that increasingly took control of the coaching and leadership fields after 1995.

The author hopes to bring out the best of these essays on coaching in book form before 2020.


Each title below is followed by a vignette circumscribing the central topic discussed in the article.

An Integral Model of Developmental Coaching (1999)

This paper of 1999 is a follow-up to an introduction to ‘scholarly consulting’ of the same year in which I introduced social-emotional and cognitive development research findings into organizational consulting. It was my goal to penetrate to what Argyris had called theory in use in contrast to espoused theory. I had come to the conclusion that all behavioral coaching does not transcend clients’ espoused theory and therefore wanted to show that, based on research into adult development, this lack of theoretical and practical depth could be remediated by coaches who knew and worked with developmental research findings.

At that time, I began to make a distinction between two aspects of the term ‘development’ that I called agentic and ontic, respectively. The first meaning of the term has to do with “what people do” to others (such as in coaching), while the second concerns “what nature does” to develop humans on their way to adulthood. This distinction is maintained in all of my subsequent writings on coaching, leadership, teams, and dialectical thinking, and can be found in my interpretation of what since Kegan & Lahey (2016) is referred to as Job 1 and Job 2 (which are reminiscent of Jaques’ Role and Self, 1998)

This paper is based on my 1999 Psy.D. dissertation entitled “Tranformative effects of coaching on executives’ professional agenda” () in which, for the first time, I brought together R. Kegan’s with M. Basseches’ work. The synthesis of social-emotional and cognitive research findings on adults became the foundation of CDF, the Constructive Developmental Framework (1999-2000) to which in 2002 I added Moris Aderman’s (i.e., Henry Murray’s) ‘Need/Press Questionnaire’. (CDF was initially called DSPT, or ‘developmental structure-process tool’, where ‘structure’ referred to social-emotional and ‘process’ to cognitive processes). The synthesis thereby accomplished enabled me to establish a comprehensive assessment methodology for working with all conceivable types of coachee (and coaches!) from a holistic — social-emotional, psychological, as well as cognitive — perspective. This evidence-based approach to individual and team coaching became the hallmark of my teaching of coaching and developmental consulting at the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM; still ongoing). It characterizes the uniqueness of my contributions to the social science.

Can Evidence-Based Coaching Increase ROI? (2004, IJCM)

In this paper 0f 2004, I present the first three-dimensional coachee assessment, combining the social-emotional, psychological, and cognitive dimensions. I investigate whether evidence-based coaching (in the sense of CDF) can increase ROI. From this holistic perspective, I envision a transformation of coaching from an ‘industry service’ to a profession with a shared knowledge base (which never materialized), and show how such a transformation could be accomplished. I then introduce a developmental methodology for coaching research (which didn’t find reception either), and introduce the notion of a coachee’s developmental profile. In addition, I describe the two structured developmental interviews of CDF joined to assessment work with the behavioral ‘Need/Press’ questionnaire (whose results are summarized by an ‘efficiency index’), and report on an empirical study of middle management in a medium-sized organization.

As to the notion of ‘return on investment’, I distinguish two different forms of ROI, (1) returns from purely behavioral coaching (‘ROI’) and (2) returns from developmental coaching (referred to as ‘CROI’, or Coaching ROI). Finally, I justify training in developmental coaching — in the sense of CDF — which, following Basseches (Adult development and the praxis of psychotherapy, 2003), I see as focused on three tasks: (1) learning to focus attention, (2) learning to envisioning outcomes, and (3) learning to enact new behaviors and experiences.

From Coach Training to Coach Education (2006)

In this paper, I outline a novel pedagogical approach to coach education that transcends traditional coach training in the direction of strengthening developmentally nascent capabilities, both cognitive and social-emotional, in coaches. The purpose of a move to education, rather than mere training, is to serve coaching clients at a deeper level of their self understanding that is not possible when following a strictly behavioral approach. The reason given for this upgrading of training to education is that coaches are unable from understanding clients in depth as long as they only address work delivery rather than simultaneously addressing the clients’ social-emotional and cognitive developmental agenda.

As an example of coach education the author outlines the sequence of modules that students at the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) pass through in order to achieve certification.

Unity of Perspectives (2007)

This text is one of the most extensive and thorough descriptions of the Constructive Developmental Framework. It introduces a unique evidence-based coaching and consulting methodology comprising a social-emotional, psychological, and cognitive dimension; all three are strongly intertwined. Thus working in all of these dimensions requires of the coach/consultant holistic and systemic thinking not taught at any of the existing “coach training schools”.

The paper comprises the following sections:

I. The theoretical (CDF) model

II. Dimensions of the CDF instrument

III. Mentoring behavioral coaches in using CDF

IV. Contributions of CDF to Coaching Research and Practice

The text includes an extended reference to E. Jaques’ evidence-based theory of work, the first of its kind and the core of his Requisite Organization. From the vantage point of Jaques’ work, CDF extends his notion of work capability (Jaques 1994) to encompass a social-emotional as well as psychological component. At the end of his life, Jaques considered these components as subordinate since, for him, they were fully contained in a person’s cognitive score. It is this reductive concept of work capability based on cognitive development alone that when designing CDF the author wanted to correct.  Jaques’ work has remained underrated to this day: he was the rare consultant who believed — and tried to show — that a science of management, in contrast to a mere sequence of management fashions, is possible based on social science research.

Contributions of Evidence-based Coaching to Coaching Psychology and Practice (2007)

This text views CDF as an evidence-based coaching and coaching research methodology. It highlights the benefits of working with developmental assessment data in coaching, especially for developing coaching plans together with coachees. The text comprises six sections, each of them making evident the contributions CDF provides to coaching psychology. The last section highlights the benefits of integrating the developmental paradigm into coaching psychology. It outlines a vision unrealized to this day (2018).

(1)  Epistemological  contribution:  Frame  of  Reference.
(2)  Methodological  contribution:  Structure  vs.  Content.

(3)  Cognitive  contribution:  Current  potential  capability  (sense  making).

(4)  Social-emotional  contribution:  Emergent  potential  capability  (meaning  making).
(5)  Clinical-developmental  contribution:  Work  Capacity  indicators.

(6)  Outlook  on  integrating  the  developmental  paradigm  into  coaching  psychology.

Mentoring a Behavioral Coach in Thinking Developmentally (2007)

In this dialog between a developmental and a behavioral coach I convey what, in my experience, are the fundamental differences between behavioral and developmental coaching. Dialogical exchanges between the two coaches bring to light the likely questions and comment of a behavioral coach when s(he) encounters CDF, and the pertinent answers of a coach schooled in the Constructive Developmental Framework.

The paper is in six parts:

1. Introduction

2. Dialog I: The aspects of human capability

3. Dialog II: The nature of developmental scores

4. Dialog III: The nature of behavioral — ‘need/press’ scores

5. Dialog IV: Synthesis of CDF data for feedback and coaching practice

6. Conclusion.

I explain in the introduction that all behavioral coaching has developmental foundations because every client encountered is on a lifelong developmental journey to adulthood, and this journey dramatically influences the client’s outlook on the world, the way s(he) uses her competences, and her work performance.

In Dialog I, I introduce the distinction between Self and Role as well as that between behavioral and developmental data. I use a diagram showing the layers of clients’ personality., thereby clarifying that ‘competences’ are derivative of developmental ‘capabilities’.

In Dialog II, I show and interpret a set of developmental scores derived from a CDF assessment in the form of a semi-structured and scored interview. By ‘scored’  I mean that when an interviews is recorded, transcribed, and scored on the basis of CDF, the coach — acting as an assessor — arrives at numerical output that facilitates  developing, together with the client, an evidence-based coaching plan. I also explain all developmental CDF scores which can be derived from the interviews.

Dialog III is entirely devoted to gathering and evaluating behavioral NP — need/press — score data.These scores provide a snapshot of a client’s way of conducting herself in the workplace, approaching assigned tasks, and her perspective on co-workers (emotional intelligence). The questionnaire makes a distinction between what clients habitually do (needs), the psychological pressures they impose on themselves (ideal press) and are settled with in their workplace (actual press).

Dialog IV. I put all empirical CDF findings together and connect them among each other. As a result, a simultaneously behavioral and developmental ‘big picture’ of the client emerges that provides an ideal framework for interventions.

The conclusion stresses that “CDF does not exist outside of oneself” as a coaching practitioner, in the sense that using this methodology requires a self transformation in terms of the coach’s emotional and cognitive self management.

On Coach Maturity (2007)

In this text I show in what way maturity matters in coaching, for both coach and coachee. Take note that these thoughts extend to all of consulting, mentoring, even teaching, and certainly team coaching. In coaching, differences between level of emotional and cognitive maturity between the parties involved set up a new ethics standard: if the coach/consultant is less developed than the client, s(he) IS NECESSARILY DOING HARM. This notion IS completely absent from behavioral coaching as sponsored by ICF and other “training” schools. Simply put, theirs’ is a shoddy ethics standard.

ICC Coaching Conference, Keynote, Lisbon, Portugal (2009)

This slide set, entitled “How much do you care to know about your client?”, introduces the CDF approach to coaching adults, especially executives. It outlines the process and results of evidence-based coaching undertaken within a framework of developmental thinking and listening, both in the social-emotional and cognitive dimension of adult life and work. It can be read as a comment on what one might call ICF triumphalism.

Finding the Real Coachee (2011)

This text details one of the deepest meditations on coaching I have come across. It is the gift of my coaching practice that is based on CDF, the Constructive Developmental Framework. The findings reported are epistemological. They try to pinpoint the conscious process of a coach deliberating about what are the essential needs of a particular client, and what are the greatest benefits that need to be bestowed on him or her. Answers to these questions are found in freeing the client from becoming an ‘object’ of  coaching through deep internal dialog of the coach, — a step that consists of making him or her a peer interlocutor of the mental and emotional processes that underlie ‘doing coaching’. This conception of coaching stands in stark contrast to focusing on the external dialog ongoing between coach and client that is the major topic of instruction in coaching schools.

Beyond Active Listening (2012)

The text points to 7 key maturity models touted after 2000 as the key to effective coaching and consultation. In the view of the author, only two, that by Kegan and Basseches, suffice, but only taken together as in CDF, and thus complementing each other. The author declares that the much touted ‘active listening’ of coaches is insufficient because it does not penetrate to the social-emotional or cognitive maturity level of the client, staying at the level of behavioral content. It is argued that ‘deep listening’, as supported by CDF, requires a consistent and comprehensive theory of adult development including ways of probing the level of clients’ cognitive fluidity. The text conveys that and why a coach’s listening can never be better than what his/her present developmental level allows for, and that all listening is informed by his or her Frame of Reference (world view) that determines what is paid attention to and seen as secondary.

Four Skill Areas of CDF Based Coaching (2013)

Comprehension of maturity levels, structural interviewing, interview text analysis and coaching practice are seen as the four skill areas to be mastered by an expert of developmental coaching, where ‘coaching practice’ is the practical implementation of the first three. This conception of coaching is seen as leading to a new maturity level of coaching itself that has been stifled by purely behavioral conceptions underwritten by the majority of ‘coaching schools’, including the International Coaching Community (ICC). The article gives practical examples for a social-emotional as well as cognitive coaching dialog. I conceive of dialectical thinking as the master skill that permits putting different developmental dimensions of coaching together.

Introduction to Cognitive Coaching (Laske & Frischherz 2013)

This slide set introduces to cognitive coaching and cognitive interviewing in the methodological framework of DTF, the Dialectical Thought Form Framework. It shows structural interviewing of clients to be the ‘royal road’ to learning dialectical thinking. (This royal road is a little shorter, but also more shallow, than supervising the cognitive structure of team dialog in that it already presupposes a competence in dialectical listening based on using DTF thought forms).

On the Ethics of Process Consultation (2014)

This short text is an homage to social critique Herbert Marcuse. The text situates “developmental theory” as a historical product, thus denying it the status of a neutral theory. The text is written in terms of Critical Theory thinking. It views “developmental theory” as a codification of the status quo of ‘late’ capitalism, where what used to be called ‘soul’ goes missing. This perspective stands in stark contrast with the developmental triumphalism displayed by adherents of this theory as late as 2018, showing lack of sociological and historical awareness in the midst of conference festivities.

IDM Team Coaching Webinar (2015)

In this group of webinar slides I introduce the CDF team typology as an important tool for team coaching.

I show that most if not all teams are developmentally mixed, merging Kegan levels 2&3, 3&4, and 4&5, respectively, which in the 2018 book co-written with Jan De Visch leads to the notion of different ‘We-Spaces’ (“Dynamic collaboration: Strengthening self organization and collaborative intelligence in teams”). The three maturity levels are focused, in  ascending order, on continuous improvement, re-designing value streams, and re-defining business models, respectively. These three levels are based on my Team Typology (MHD vol. 1, 2005).

Following the slides, the reader comes to understand that on each of the three levels mentioned one may distinguish two types of teams referred to as ‘downwardly’ and ‘upwardly’ divided, respectively. Downwardly-divided teams are stuck because a higher developed minority is unable, for various behavioral and/or developmental reasons, to sway the less developed team majority to become a collaborative force. The opposite type of team, called upwardly divided, overcomes this problem because a higher developed majority succeeds in engaging the less developed minority to accede to its developmental level.

In the 2018 book on self organization in teams, pointed to above, the main ideas presented in this slide set become the foundation of ‘We-Spaces’. In addition to introduce developmental notions into the team literature, the book outlines tools and procedures for establishing enabling environments for supporting teams on their search for self organization. (Team self organization is seen as anchored in individual self organization which equates with maturity, and is thus a derivative of team members’ level of social-emotional and cognitive maturity.)

Coaching in Distributed Leadership Organizations (2018)

This is a short summary of the IDM Developmental Coaching Methodology that is anchored in Laske’s Constructive Developmental Framework. It will interest readers who want to go beyond the officially endorsed, ICF and otherwise “developmental” and “integral”, coaching ideology that is either ignorant of, or chooses to neglect, cognitive adult development. This social-emotional triumphalism overlooks both the psychological and cognitive limitations of meaning making. It is characterized by having never heard of Roy Bhaskar, and by not caring about the intricate relationships between social-emotional development — now referred to “development” tout court — and the development of mature thinking, which amounts to a disservice not only to senior managers but also self-organizing teams that thrive on dialog. To understand this better, go to

Author: Otto Laske

I am the founder and director of IDM, the Interdevelopmental Institute. My background is in philosophy, psychology, consulting, and coaching based on developmental theory to which I have mightily contributed myself. See the blogs at

5 thoughts on “Developmental Coaching: A Curtailed Discipline Squashed by Behaviorism”

    1. Benedikt, am glad you found this. There are still a few articles of mine I need to introduce. Also have a look at the IDM publications; the newest editions of my books are now in pdf form.

  1. Absolutely. Looking forward to the new book, which is much needed. Finding the suitable way to encompass different aspects rather than reduce to separated favourite flavours seems still a tricky task of our times. Thank you.

Comments are closed.